Commentary

A weekly look at the mid-major scene

Originally Published: January 31, 2011
By Mark Adams | Special to ESPN.com

Here's a look around the mid-major scene at the teams and players you might not know much about (but should):

What you might've missed

Utah State: The Aggies just keep rolling along. They've won 15 straight games and are 20-2 overall. The latest victory was a double-overtime thriller at Hawaii 89-84. Brian Green hit the tying 3-pointer to send the game into the second OT, and Utah State made six straight clutch free throws to seal the deal.

[+] EnlargeBrian Green
Phil Carter/US PresswireBrian Green and Utah State have won 15 straight games.
Congratulations to Charles Jenkins, who scored 19 points (and dished out eight assists) to become Hofstra's all-time leading scorer on Saturday in the Pride's 65-60 loss to Drexel. Jenkins now has 2,280 career points.

Belmont beat Stetson on Sunday 82-64. But that wasn't the story. The victory marked Rick Byrd's 600th win as a head coach. Congratulations to one of the best coaches in the nation.

Chattanooga outlasted UNC-Greensboro 111-110 in double overtime at home on Jan. 27. Ricky Taylor scored a career-high 41 points, including the game-winning basket with 15 seconds left in the second overtime. Korey VanDussen scored 33 points to lead UNC-Greensboro, which had its three-game winning streak snapped. The Spartans led by seven in the second OT, but the Mocs outscored them 9-1 in the final 1:49.

Kenneth Faried by the numbers:
Faried had 23 points and 23 rebounds in Morehead State's 72-65 win over Tennessee State on Jan. 27. It marks the most rebounds a player has compiled in a game this season, and it equaled the rebound total of Tennessee State's team. It was Faried's second career 23-23 game. It's also his 74th career double-double, tying Navy's David Robinson and Memphis' Keith Lee for 10th all-time. Faried is the nation's leading rebounder and now needs only seven rebounds to reach 1,500 for his career, after a 16-board performance in a 69-56 victory over Austin Peay on Saturday. Only four players have reached 1,500 rebounds in the past 35 seasons.

Check out this impressive list:
Most Career Rebounds Since 1975
Tim Duncan, Wake Forest 1,570
Derrick Coleman, Syracuse 1,537
Malik Rose, Drexel 1,514
Ralph Sampson, Virginia 1,511
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State 1,493

C-USA: Seven of the 12 teams in C-USA are within one game of first place. Memphis, UTEP and UAB are all 5-2, and Southern Miss is 5-3. They're followed by three more teams at 4-3 (Southern Methodist, East Carolina and Tulsa). How crazy is it in C-USA? Marshall, which is 2-4, got its second conference win over Memphis, which entered Saturday's matchup at 5-1. This is a wide-open race, and the eventual regular-season champ might have five or six losses before all's said and done.

Army beat Bucknell 90-70 in Patriot League play on Saturday. Jeremy Hence scored 23 points as Army ended the Bison's nine-game winning streak and gave them their first conference loss.

Adnan Hodzic scored 26 points and Brandon Brown added 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Lipscomb to a 73-64 upset win over Belmont at home on Jan. 25. Belmont suffered its first Atlantic Sun loss of the season, and it came against the Bruins' rivals. Belmont, which had trounced Lipscomb 88-52 earlier in conference play, continues to be the top team in the A-Sun at 12-1.

The Southland Conference has the most exciting conference race in the country. Nine of the 12 members are within one game in the loss column. McNeese State has the best conference record at 5-2.

Loyola senior guard Geoff McCammon is trying to become the second Rambler in as many seasons to claim the Horizon League's Sixth Man of the Year Award. Loyola's Walt Gibler earned the honor last season. McCammon is contributing a team-best 14.0 points per game and knocking down 42 percent from 3-point range. Earlier this season, he came off the bench to tie a Loyola single-game record with eight 3-point field goals en route to 26 points in a 63-62 win at San Francisco.

What you shouldn't miss

Tuesday: Wichita State at Indiana State -- The Shockers were the preseason pick over the darlings of the Valley, the upstart Sycamores. Terre Haute, Ind., will be hopping, and this one just might go down to a last-second shot.

Tuesday: Maine at Boston University -- Many picked BU in the preseason. It is now time for the Terriers to make a stand against the America East-leading Black Bears.

Wednesday: Tulsa at Memphis -- Tulsa (4-3 in C-USA) can make the race even more muddled with a win at Memphis.

Wednesday: Hofstra at George Mason -- Winner of this one stays within striking distance of the red-hot VCU Rams in the CAA race.

Wednesday: Southern Miss at UAB -- Southern Miss is 5-3 in C-USA and UAB is 5-2. It is a mad scramble, and these two teams are contenders in a wide-open race.

[+] EnlargeCole
AP Photo/David RichardNorris Cole gets a good bump up the boards in Draft Rater's book.

Thursday: Valpo at Cleveland State -- Vikings leading scorer Norris Cole just keeps on grinding out wins. If it beats Valpo and Butler in the next two games, Cleveland State can put itself in a championship position.

Thursday: Belmont at Jacksonville -- The Bruins finally lost an Atlantic Sun game at Lipscomb last week. The only way for East Tennessee State, Lipscomb or Jacksonville to win the A-Sun is for Jacksonville to win this game at home. Otherwise, Belmont has a home game versus ETSU left and then less-formidable competition down the stretch.

Thursday: Murray State at Tennessee State -- Tennessee State lost at Murray earlier in the season, but now gets the Racers at home. TSU is the surprise team in the OVC, while Murray State was the preseason pick by just about everyone, including me.

Thursday: Wofford at Charleston -- In early January, Charleston won at Wofford 77-73 behind Andrew Goudelock's 18 points. Wofford currently has a half-game lead over Charleston in the South Division of the Southern Conference.

Thursday: Florida Atlantic at North Texas -- The Owls are legit and can really prove it with a victory at North Texas. The Mean Green have the dynamic Tristan Thompson to lean on. The Owls are led by Greg Gantt , who can score (14.5 ppg). I love the assist tandem of Alex Tucker and Raymond Taylor, who both average more than four assists per game. Let's give coach Mike Jarvis some credit: He has put FAU on the college basketball map.

Friday and Saturday: Harvard at Princeton and Harvard at Penn -- Undefeated in Ivy League play, the Crimson go on the road for the first time in critical Ancient Eight matchups.

Friday and Sunday: Iona and Rider at Fairfield -- If Iona and/or Rider expect to catch the Stags, they both need wins this week. Iona hosts Fairfield to close out the MAAC regular season on Feb. 27. Saint Peter's is also in the hunt and will be rooting for both Iona and Rider to defeat the Stags.

Saturday: Old Dominion at George Mason -- This is a big week for George Mason, which plays Hofstra at home on Wednesday and then hosts ODU. If GMU can survive these two games, then the Patriots invade VCU on Feb. 15 for what could be a deciding game for the CAA regular-season championship.

Saturday: Buffalo at Ball State -- Ball State is on top of the MAC West, and surprising Buffalo is tied with Bowling Green and Kent State in the East. Ball State's Jarrod Jones takes on the top shot-blocking team in the Mid-American, led by Mitchell Watt's 2.3 swats per game.

Saturday: Indiana State at Missouri State -- This is a rematch of one of the great finishes of the season, a 70-69 Indiana State victory in Terre Haute.

Saturday: Murray State at Austin Peay -- This one could decide it all in the OVC. The Governors won a 66-64 thriller in Murray, Ky., earlier in OVC play to snap the Racers' 25-game home winning streak. These two teams have won 16 of the past 24 OVC championships. Here we go again? Maybe, but Morehead State and Kenneth Faried are also worth watching as a legitimate horse capable of a late surge in this race.

Mid-major unbeatens in conference play

Coastal Carolina (11-0)
Harvard (4-0)
Oakland (11-0)
Utah State (9-0)

Who's hot

Utah State's Stew Morrill: Thirteen seasons ago, Stew Morrill became the head man at Utah State. He is now 314-101 for a 75.6 winning percentage with the Aggies. Morrill's teams have produced 11 straight 23-win seasons, and they've won six regular-season championships and five tournament championships, including three straight regular-season WAC crowns and two consecutive WAC tourney championships. Every year his teams rank in the top 10 in most offensive categories. With this kind of success, I predict that someday Morrill will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Northern Iowa: After a 1-3 MVC start, the Panthers have won seven straight games. UNI gutted out a hard-fought win at Missouri State 60-59 on Sunday and now is in third place in The Valley (8-3) behind Wichita State and Missouri State (9-2). Kwadzo Ahelegbe is the Panthers' leader in every way. Anthony James dropped 17 points on Missouri State, and the toughness of Lucas O'Rear, who had 11 points and nine rebounds against the Bears, is invaluable.

Evansville: Speaking of Valley teams making a move, Evansville has now won five of its past six games. The Purple Aces opened MVC play 1-4. Next up? The conference-leading Missouri State Bears, who visit Evansville on Wednesday night.

Maine: Gerald McLemore scored 23 points and Maine showed its collective championship mettle as the Black Bears rallied from a 22-point halftime deficit to beat Binghamton 77-74 on Saturday night. Maine continues to make basketball history at an historic hockey school.

Bethune-Cookman: The Wildcats are 7-1, in first place in the MEAC and have won seven of their past eight games.

Wofford and Chattanooga: Wofford has a half-game lead on Charleston in the SoCon South, while Chattanooga has a comfortable lead in the North division.

San Francisco: The Dons beat Gonzaga in OT on Jan. 22, and then went on the road and won 61-60 at Loyola Marymount. USF has won seven of nine and is 5-2 in WCC play, tied for second place with Santa Clara and a game behind Saint Mary's.

Valpo and Wright State: Valpo defeated Butler 85-79 in OT on Saturday, as Matt Kenney, Ryan Broekhoff and Cory Johnson each scored 16 points and Brandon Wood added 15 points. The Crusaders are now tied in the loss column with Cleveland State for the top spot in the Horizon League. Meanwhile, Wright State has emerged as a dark horse. It is 7-4 in the league and a half-game ahead of Butler, and is led by Vaughn Duggins and N'Gai Evans.

VCU: The Rams are now 10-1 in the CAA and have won nine straight. They now lead George Mason by one game and ODU and Hofstra by two games.

Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers continue to take care of business in the Big South. They won at Radford 86-63 on Saturday night for their 18th straight victory.

Long Island: The Blackbirds have won 10 of their past 11 games and have a one-game lead on Central Connecticut State in the Northeast.

SWAC: Texas Southern and Jackson State are tied with 7-1 marks and will meet on Feb. 12.

Oakland: The Grizzlies play at IUPUI on Feb. 5, but at 11-0 and with a three-game lead in the loss column, I believe Oakland, which has won nine in a row, has already reached its Summit.

Florida Atlantic and Denver: Both are running away with their respective divisions in the Sun Belt. FAU lost at home to Western Kentucky on Saturday, but it still has a three-game lead in the loss column in the East. Denver has a two-game advantage (three in the loss column) in the West after defeating North Texas 80-67 on Saturday night.

Who's not

Last Wednesday, Towson left at 3:00 p.m. to make the 70-mile drive to Fairfax, Va., to face George Mason. The team believed it had enough time to make the 7 p.m. ET tipoff if it left at 3. However, a snow storm hit the region hard, and it made roads impassable, which in turn had the Tigers stuck in traffic only miles from their final destination. The team sat and waited and then sat and waited some more. Coach Pat Kennedy sacrificed his winter trench coat by putting it under the bus' tire in the hopes of getting more traction. The coat was ripped to shreds. As the 7 o'clock tipoff came and went, the game was moved to 9 p.m., but the team bus was able to move only 10 yards in an hour, leading to the postponement of the game until the next day. Seventy miles and 10 hours after leaving Towson, the Tigers finally found hotel rooms at 1 a.m. The next night, George Mason won 84-58. Towson made it home in the typical 90-minute drive. By week's end, the Tigers fell to 0-11 in the CAA. It was that kind of week.

Tussle at the top

Thursday: Liberty at Coastal Carolina -- This is put up or shut up time for the Flames. The Chanticleers' Mike Holmes has been booted off the team, but Coastal still has weapons. Desmond Holloway and Chad Gray are playing well for Coastal Carolina, but this is a must-win game for Liberty.

Spotlight on Old Dominion and Blaine Taylor

Quick, name the top 10 coaches in mid-major basketball. If one of them is not ODU's Blaine Taylor, then I would suggest a re-do on your list.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Taylor
Paul Abell/US PresswireBlaine Taylor has averaged 24 wins per season at Old Dominion in the past eight years.

Taylor is a Montana guy who started as a point guard for Mike Montgomery's Montana Grizzlies back in the late 1970s. He was not overly quick or a great athlete, and he was only an average shooter. Taylor was smarter than pretty much every other point guard in the Big Sky when he played. All he did at Montana was compete and overachieve. Those two ingredients have served him well as a coach.

Taylor went on to serve as an assistant coach to Montgomery and then to Stew Morrill at Montana. He waited for his chance to be the head coach at his alma mater and in 1991 he ascended to the top spot as Morrill left for Colorado State.

He won 69 percent of his games at Montana, and made two trips to the NCAA tournament and one NIT appearance in seven seasons. He then joined Montgomery at Stanford, when he got a call from ODU.

Taylor has now won more than 300 games in his career and has been at the Monarchs' helm for nine-plus seasons. ODU knocked off Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season and is 17-5 in 2010-11.

Recently, Taylor told his team, "Hey guys, we are never going to have Peyton Manning stats. We just find ways to win." He compares his team's style of play to Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Just like Big Ben, the Monarchs might not have as many style points, but they keep on winning.

His current ODU team plays how Taylor used to play at Montana. He could not get by a defender but he was a coach on the floor who mastered the backup dribble to create space to pass. The Monarchs assist on 60 percent of their baskets.

ODU does not have the shining star of Gerald Lee in the post like it did last season. But it does have Frank Hassell, who, in his coach's words, "is improved and tends to finish stronger than he starts."

If that is true, then watch out for ODU because Hassell averages 13.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, which ranks No. 2 in CAA on the boards. He also shoots almost 55 percent from the floor and can block a shot or two each night out.

ODU knocked off Clemson in nonconference play and went 3-0 versus the A-10 with wins over Xavier, Richmond and Dayton earlier this season. In fact, the CAA went 9-7 collectively versus the A-10. With a strong contingent of top teams like VCU, George Mason, Hofstra, James Madison, Drexel and Delaware, the CAA appears to be poised for multiple NCAA bids and postseason bids.

In the end, I believe that Taylor's bunch will find a way back to the NCAA tournament. He and his teams have always competed and overachieved. Why stop now?

Mark Adams is a contributor to ESPN.com. He is a game analyst on the ESPN family of networks and was a college basketball coach for 17 years, including a head-coaching stint at Central Connecticut State and assistant jobs at Idaho State and Washington State. For more of his insight, check out www.enthusiadams.com